Category Archives: Gear Reviews

Salomon XA 20 M Backpack Review

Updated version of Classic AR pack

Salomon packs have been extremely popular in recent years particularly their 20 litre version, now called the XA 20 M. The classic U-shaped zip access remains from previous versions and that’s a good thing as accessibility into the pack is very good. Over time, with regular overstuffing, the water resistant zips can get a bit tired, but you probably need a bigger bag then! Inside the main compartment there is a small mesh zip pocket at the top and some fine mesh covered water drainage holes at the other end. A small horizontal zip on the front of the pack accesses a deep pocket and externally to that is a stretch mesh pocket, but unfortunately not stretchy or big enough to fit a helmet . Hydration bladders slot into a separate zip accessed bladder panel with a couple of velcro loops at the top to accept all manner of vertical bladder types. A bladder hose can be fed through either shoulder strap at your preference, however, it’s a tight squeeze if using a hose with a 90 degree bend. Also on the shoulder straps are clips to securely attach an optional extra chest pouch.

Salomon XA 20 M Pack
Salomon XA 20 M Pack

The back is well padded with the Airvent Lite system of expanded foam, which does add comfort, if a little bulk, but at very little weight, so gets the thumbs up. The waist belt is a wide mesh with a real enveloping fit. A buckle clips in the middle but adjustment is made at either end of the strap which has the effect of really hugging the pack in tight to the hips. With a well fitting shoulder harness yoke the bag is extremely comfortable in use. An interesting touch is the zips on the deep hip pockets which are reversed and open forwards to prevent the pullers catching on bushes and splaying open. Personally I’ve never found conventional zip direction a problem and I found accessing pocket contents a bit more difficult this way. Side bottle pockets are easy to use on the go and hold bottles securely. Side compression straps cinch the lower pack in tight for stability, but an external bungee cord tucked into one pocket just confuses. There are a number of loops through which the bungee cord can be passed in whatever configuration the user likes, but it’s not long enough to stash a helmet under and just seems like an afterthought. This lack of external carrying capacity is the only real drawback to an otherwise excellent bag.

Terra Nova Laser 20 Pack Review

Review for UK Adventure Sports Magazine AR Pack Group Test

Summary – Exceptionally lightweight racing pack.

Terra Nova Laser 20

Made from the same fabric as their hugely successful Laserlite tent range, it’s thin, superlight, water-resistant and seems to be pretty tough. It has one large main compartment with a vertical water resistant zip, with an internal bladder pouch and a smaller slot pocket on one side. This design can place a lot of strain on the zip if over stuffed, but so far careful packing and a month’s use are showing no ill effects. Packing heavier items low in the ‘A’ shape packs keeps their weight off the zip and keeps the packs stable. External mesh pockets and thin bungee cords provide additional storage, and extra hypalon loops allow you to configure the cords for best compression or helmet carry. At first glance they look insubstantial, but in practice they held trekking poles securely on an extended mountain run. Hip pockets are easy to use and bottle pockets are attached to the hip belt for ease of access. The compression on these is a bit fiddly and can’t be tightened one handed or excessively as the thin bungee seems a bit fragile, but again it is effective. The harness is well fitting, stable and although back padding is just some well placed mesh, it is comfortable. At half the weight of some other packs around, it’s really at the cutting edge of racing equipment design and despite the low weight it still manages to be practical for everyday hill use.

Adventure Racing Packs

Choosing the right pack for adventure racing is
almost as important as choosing footwear. For one to two day races like
the Rat Race Urban Adventure, Polaris Challenge, Open 24 etc, where a
reasonable load needs to be carried, then a 20-25 litre pack is what
most racers are going to need. Key factors in choosing a pack are the
volume, ease of access, comfort, stability, lightweight, hydration
bladder compatibility, volume adjustment or compression, and on the
move accessibility.

Terra Nova Laser 20

Some things to look for are hip belt
pockets, adjustable chest strap, external bungees or mesh to hold
helmet or shoes, easy access side bottle pockets and a comfortable
harness that doesn’t dig into your neck. It’s unlikely that you’re load
will be heavy enough to require much padding on shoulder straps and you
may wish to look for optional removable back padding to reduce weight.
Often packs have ‘breathable’ mesh panels to keep your back cool but
rarely do they work well enough to make them a significant buying

A more important consideration is fit and comfort. A bag that bounces around when running is going to cause chafing and discomfort so look for back hugging packs that hold tight but allow you to move your arms and torso without restriction. I recently reviewed a range of packs for the UK Adventure Sports Mag July edition which I’ll publish here in due course.

The Thrill of Victory…

…the Agony of my Feet.

I recently finished reading an interesting and amusing Adventure Racing book which is basically a collection of short essays on racing experiences. It includes tales from pioneers and prominent racers in the sport over the past two decades through to marshals, first timers and consistent back of the packers. It’s definitely worth looking out on Amazon from the link below.

The Thrill of Victory, the Agony of My Feet: Tales from the World of Adventure Racing

The Thrill!
The Thrill!
The Agony...
The Agony...

The introduction has the following manifesto that I really liked. Apologies to the author, I can’t recall your name!

AR manifesto:

If you’re not hungry, you’re carrying too much food
If you’re not thirsty, you’re carrying too much water
If you are warm, you have too many clothes
If you’re not wet, scratched and bruised, you took the long way
If you’re not frightened, you have too much gear
If you’re not tired, you’re going too slowly
If you’re not drop down sleepy, you’re getting too much rest
And if you finish the race on schedule, it was too easy anyway!

First Look – Gore Air System Gilet

I’m testing a batch of waterproof jackets for UK Adventure Sports Magazine this week from Paramo, Haglofs, Rab, and Berghaus. Hopefully a few more will show up, but I wasn’t expecting the little surprise that arrived with Mr UPS from Germany. Seems I was sent a Gore Running Wear Air System Gilet to review alongside the other jackets, but this one is a little bit different so I’m not sure it really fits in. Will probably have to look at it separately and in more detail.

Gore Air System Gilet
Gore Air System Gilet

It’s constructed from a mixture of different Gore fabrics, Performance Shell and Paclite along their Comfort Mapping theme – putting tougher fabrics in higher wear spots and lighter, more breathable fabrics where they can get away with it. You might spot the unusual looking matrix across the front, which continues on around the lower back. This is an air chamber that can be inflated by blowing in the black valve on the chest, creating a web of small compartments on the inside. These trap warm air next to the skin, in the same way as down or synthetic insulation does, however, being Gore, the outer fabric is waterproof, making this a pretty interesting piece. So its a waterproof gilet with adjustable insulation, that won’t stop performing if it gets wet like down, or becoming sodden like Primaloft etc. I’ve yet to try it in anger, but I can see it being quite versatile meaning days on the hills with a windproof need only be augmented by the gilet if the weather turns shit. Keeping the core dry is clearly the most important point, which this will do. Still getting chilly or stopped at a belay point midway up a climb? Just blow in the valve for some instant insulation. Ready to move again? Just release the valve and be on your way!

Voila! Gore Air System Gilet inflated
Voila! Gore Air System Gilet inflated

I’m keen to see how it works out and about on the hills, but in the short term I quite like this, but that’s maybe just because its different and I welcome Gore’s attempts to bring something different to the market. My only niggle at the moment is a lack of handwarmer pockets, but hey it is designed for runners and who runs with their hands in their pockets?

Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight and Waterproof 0.7

Summary: Well priced kit with most essentials
Price: £28
Value: 7/10
Performance: 7/10
  • Designed for adventure sports particularly those involving water
  • Swift wrap elastic bandage with Velcro closure
  • Moleskin dressing for preventing and treating blisters
  • Trauma pad and compression bandage for bleeding
  • Medication for diarrhoea, inflammation, allergic reactions, bee stings and insect bites
  • Wound irrigation system to clean and close wounds
  • It seems a little strange reviewing something that I would hope to never use, a bit like an avalanche transceiver or the safety rope on an abseil. Inevitably though we will all need a first aid kit at some point and of course it is more often than not mandatory kit in an adventure race. Besides the obligation to carry it during a race it is common sense to carry one whenever out on the hills and Adventure Medical Kits are designed specifically for that purpose.

    Adventure Medical Kits have been designed by an Emergency room doctor and active outdoorsman. They are used by some of the top AR teams in the world and come in a range of sizes for every length of race from sprint to expedition.

    The Ultralight 0.7 (it’s weight in ounces) is designed as a bare minimum “ultra lightweight” first aid kit for 2 people for trips of up to 4 days. However, this could easily be stretched to fit use in a team expedition race and its light enough that it would be fine to carry on an Open 24 or Rat Race.

    The kit is contained within two inner bags featuring a ‘leak proof, waterproof and airtight seal’, which I found did not always seal 100% without a lot of fiddling and I could not ever trust the seal to remain closed, despite claims to be tested and approved by the US Navy; I kept it inside another dry bag just in case.

    With no standard first aid kit for adventure races, I had to tailor it for every race, adding and removing items as determined by rules and common sense. The current version in the shops seems to have an altered content list to the test kit so it is worth double checking the contents match your requirements. The U.S. version of this kit comes with ibuprofen, antihistamine, and antibiotics but not in the U.K. You will probably want to bolster the contents with some pain relief medication, more effective blister protection materials, and Loperamide as determined by your race’s mandatory kit list or your own sensibilities.

    Most racers’ first aid kits are cobbled together from bits and pieces acquired over time, but if you are starting from scratch or want to be sure your adhesive dressings are still sticky and sterile when you need them, then it is worth checking out the AMK Ultralight range. They produce the 0.3 and 0.9 kits with less or more contents depending on your group size and trip length. The 0.9 kit has been popular with teams competing in Primal Quest, Raid Gauloises and Eco Challenges and contains a few extra items sure to be needed on an expedition race at some point.

    The most important piece of medical kit you could have with you in a race is knowledge and Adventure Medical Kits acknowledge the necessity of sound advice by publishing a free ebook called ‘A Comprehensive Guide to Wilderness and Travel Medicine’ which you can download here:

    The AMK Ultralight and Waterproof 0.7 kit currently contains the following items:

    Bandage Materials
    2 Dressing, Gauze, Sterile, 3″ x 3″, Pkg./2
    2 Dressing, Gauze, Sterile, 2″ x 2″, Pkg./2
    3 Bandage, Butterfly Closure
    1 Bandage, Conforming Gauze, 3″
    4 Bandage, Adhesive, Fabric, 1″ x 3″
    2 Dressing, Non-Adherent, Sterile, 3″ x 4″
    3 Bandage, Adhesive, Fabric, Knuckle

    1 Gloves, Nitrile (Pair), Hand Wipe

    Blister / Burn
    11 Moleskin, Pre-Cut & Shaped

    Duct Tape
    1 Duct Tape, 2″ x 100″

    Fracture / Sprain
    1 Bandage, Elastic with Velcro, 2″

    1 Splinter Picker/Tick Remover Forceps
    3 Safety Pins

    2 After Bite Wipe

    2 Aloksak Waterproof Bag, 6.75″ X 6″

    Wound Care
    1 Tape, 1″ x 10 Yards
    1 Tincture of Benzoin Topical Adhesive,

    5 After Cuts & Scrapes Anaesthetic/Antiseptic Wipe

    For more details please visit:

    Bridgedale X Hale Trailhead Socks

    Summary: Comfortable and durable, about all you need in a sock
    Price: £12
    Value: 6/10
    Performance: 7/10
  • Ankle sock with targeted impact padding and ventilation areas,
  • T2 anti-compression loop,
  • Mesh surround areas,
  • WoolFusion fibres.
  • 41% polyamide, 29% merino wool, 29% polypropylene, 1% Lycra.
  • As part of their Fast and Light range, Bridgedale’s X-Hale Trailhead sock is designed to be worn with lighter, more breathable footwear in warmer conditions and during high intensity activity. Essentially they are designed to be worn with lighter, lower height footwear like trail running shoes and for adventure racing type activities.

    It can be hard to get too excited about socks; most people just find ones that work without giving blisters and swear by them. Getting geeky about bikes and kayaks seems to be acceptable but talking about socks in extreme detail can raise a few eyebrows!

    Well, I’m going to have a go…I have been a long time fan of merino wool socks and have not used synthetic socks for years, so when these arrived I was sceptical that they would win me over, but reading the materials list I was surprised to see they contain 27% merino wool. Merino wool is great for keeping you warm when it is cool out, cool when it is warm out and has the supreme talent of being naturally anti-bacterial so does not allow bacteria to breed, hence merino fibres do not get smelly. Merino though is not that durable when it comes to high friction applications like socks, so the main construction is from a nylon and polypropylene mix with Lycra to give it all a nice snug fit.

    The Trailhead has ‘T2’ dual cushioned thick loops in the heel and ball of the foot, the areas where you need it most, and has a thinner more ventilated layup in areas where you do not need the cushioning. After a year of near daily use the cushioned sections are not quite as sprightly as they used to be, but still do the job and are standing up far better than my other merino socks – the strength of the nylon gives them durability, though they do get a bit smellier than socks with a higher merino content.

    I have used these for epic runs and expedition races and cannot really remember much in the way of blisters, so that is a tick in that box. They kept my feet mostly cool and they are still going strong after a hard year so double tick there. The price is maybe a little steep at £12 but you can find them cheaper if you shop around and bearing in mind the weaving technology involved in making them and the durability, then it is probably a fair price really.

    For more details please visit:

    Victorinox Swiss Champ

    Summary: Highly featured, superb quality multi tool
    Price: £50
    Value: 8/10
    Performance: 8/10
    • Classic design
    • Swiss precision multi tool
    • 33 stainless steel tools
    • High quality construction
    • Lifetime guarantee
    When I was a child in the Scouts, we would play games of Top Trumps with Swiss Army Knifes, constantly trying to out do each other by revealing some tool from the belly of our knife that supposedly more niche and of higher value than our friends. The bigger the knife, the more tools it contained and the more creative the imagination would have to get to define exactly what some of them were used for. Horse hoof stone picker…or parcel hook? Nut cracker or wrench? Small spike for making tiny holes in windscreen washer jets or…oh that’s what it is for!

    Thankfully, the Swiss Champ Knife, the one I dreamed of owning as a boy, came with a universal picture manual to show exactly what each of the 33 tools were for. Of course, there are many of them that I would not dream of ever actually using, but is that really the point of this knife? The Swiss Army are, after all, issued with a knife with only 6 features. Top Trumps to me!

    The tools are all made from stainless steel and are of the highest quality, still being manufactured in Switzerland since 1884. Using some of the tools to prise and bend puts a lot of torsional force on the main body which would cause less well constructed tools (like you get in the local market) to split open. Not a hint of it with the Swiss Champ, it is rock solid and shows no signs of the hinges loosening. This particular model is the most well equipped model in the range and has become such a classic item of design that it appears in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

    A knife is often on the kit list for expedition races, but this would simply be overkill to carry with you, it is heavy and at what point in the race will you need the corkscrew anyway? It is one for the transition box though, and worth having. The tweezers alone could be a saviour to remove annoying thorns and a support crew could find a good use for the can and bottle openers.

    While it is certainly not a necessity for adventure racing, it is a really nice tool to own and with a lifetime guarantee it should be a purchase for life.

    Here is the tool list in it’s entirety:
    Large blade, Small blade, Corkscrew, Can opener, Cap lifter, Screwdriver, Wire stripper, Reamer, Punch, Key ring, Tweezers, Toothpick, Scissors, Multi-purpose hook, Wood saw, Fishscaler, Hook disgorger, Ruler, Nailfile, Metal file, Nail cleaner, Metal saw, Fine screwdriver, Chisel, Pliers, Wire cutters, Wire crimper, Phillips screwdriver, Magnifying glass, Ballpoint pen, Pin, Mini-screwdriver (patented)For more details please visit:

    Giant Anthem First Impressions

    Although, we’re lucky enough as a team to have a sponsorship deal with Marin, we’ve had the bad news that the much anticipated Alchemist short travel full suss has been delayed until probably September 2009. In the meantime I’ve been busy on eBay and found a bargain Giant Anthem frame and here’s it’s first pic below.

    Giant Anthem Side Shot
    Giant Anthem Side Shot

    It had its first decent ride last night and first impressions certainly match up with all the incredible reviews it’s received. The rear suspension wasn’t quite as plush as I expected, however, I think new bushings and spacers just need a little time to settle in and I’m sure it’ll be swinging free. I may have a little too much air pressure in the shock as Giant’s recommendation to put the same pressure as my weight in pounds, seems to stiffen it up a bit too much and with the efficient pedalling design of the Maestro links, then it should enable me to soften it a little and increase small bump sensitivity. It only has a Fox RP2 fitted which is probably in need of a service too, so not going to expect miracles in small bump sensitivity.

    The Anthem is really designed for an 80mm travel fork so the 100mm Reba I have fitted has kicked the head angle back by half a degree, which is probably a good thing. The Anthem is known for its super sharp steering and that little bit of layback will help take the edge off a bit which is probably a good thing for epic racing and training rides.

    I still have an Xlite carbon riser fitted to a Race Face Deus stem and I’m thinking seriously about altering this setup. I find the Deus to be a bit lacking in torsional stiffness when I really pump on the bars on a steep climb and I’m on the lookout for a suitable alternative. I would like to try an oversize bar and stem and see how that feels. On the bar front I’m thinking it might be a good idea to go back to a flat bar with bar ends, particularly with Explore Sweden on the horizon. The sweep angle on the Xlite bars isn’t quite to my liking and I think having the muliple hand positions offered by bar ends may be of benefit to my wrists on the long Swedish bike sections. I had a little lower back pain at the start of the ride and I need to figure out whether that’s to do with my position or just because it’s been so long since I’ve been on the bike. I think the latter and I just need to do some more hamstring stretching. Can’t wait to be able to start back at yoga now that my knee is getting stronger!

    Ride on!

    Sigg Sports Bottle Review

    Latest review for

    Summary: Updated classic water bottle but not ideal for adventure racing
    Price: £15
    Value: 5/10
    Performance: 5/10
  • Iconic design
  • Light
  • Tough
  • Leakproof
  • Aluminium drinks bottle with updated sports top
    Sigg have been producing bottles for 101 years and if you have been a regular ACE racer over the past 10 years this is probably also how many SIGG bottles you have stashed away under the stairs.

    The familiar, Swiss made, aluminium bottle available in 1000s of different designs has been a favourite with hikers and climbers for years because of its durability, lightweight and leakproof structure. It is made from a single piece of aluminium and as such is 100% recyclable. To protect the contents from aluminium contamination, it features a patented elastic polymer lining that passes all relevant FDA standards, and prevents the flavour of your drink from being tainted. In my experience it does tend to keep water tasting as it should do, when compared to water stored in typical plastic sports water bottles. Sigg also claim that it is taste-neutral with fruit acids and isotonic drinks but I have not tried this myself. The elastic coating means that if the bottle is dropped and dented the inner will not peel off and for many the dents on their Sigg each tell a story of a particular adventure. For me they are annoying and the ease with which the outer scratches, means it looks tatty in no time.

    For sports use Sigg have developed the sports bottle top with a handy flip over lid to keep the nozzle crud free, however, taking a drink still involves unscrewing the lid slightly then sucking through a nozzle, not quite as simple as a regular bottle that can be opened with your teeth. The fact that the bottle itself is made of solid metal means you can’t squeeze it to get the liquid out quicker, you just have to suck harder, so it is not ideal for high intensity activities. I find the bottle diameter a bit narrow for most bike bottle cages and it easily falls out on a rough downhills. A cage that is tight enough to hold it in will probably scratch the paint off when you put it in and out.

    Siggs have many fans because of their durability and quality feel. They also do a reasonable job of keeping drinks cool in the heat, but you can’t put in hot liquids as they will damage the internal coating. All in all, the Sigg is a classic piece of outdoor kit and now has increased ease of use with the sport’s top, but it is just not really suitable for adventure racing or high intensity activities.For more details please visit: